Answered by Shaykh Gibril F Haddad
If someone I know used to pray regularly 5-times a day, but then over a period of time, started to get less and less motivated about salat to the point where they seldom pray, what practical advice could I give them that would help them pray regularly again? They get discouraged when they actually sit down and write down which salats they have to make up because the list gets so long. So what practical steps could this person take to start praying regularly again?
Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim:
It is good to “count one’s blessings” when one feels discouraged. Oftentimes the discouragement is not warranted and is lifted through certain mental habits that shoulder spiritual effects by permission of Allah.
Among these habits is to give thanks to Allah for creating us; to give thanks for creating us as a human being of sound mind and body; to give thanks for creating us as part of the last and best Umma; to give thanks to Him for cherishing and sustaining us at all times, even – or especially – in the depth of distress from which we call to Him.
Then to remember that this Religion is ease and good tidings. In difficulty, make istighfar and in ease give thanks. In other words, remember Allah at all times. The Qur’an calls the Torah and the sun a Diya’, while it calls the Qur’an and the moon a Nur. The Ulema said, this is because the Diya’ is a light that burns while the Nur is a gentle light. The Torah had harsh rulings while those of Islam are gentle and easy.
Another habit is to remember that a time may come when one’s salat and fast will become physically difficult or impossible, through sickness or old age or “man-made” preventions; and that one’s salat might be the last one, followed by death. What is the excuse for someone able, young, and strong who is offered millions of opportunities for success and happiness but insists on missing them all? We should strive not to be remiss then remiss then remiss before we face the grave. If we saw someone dear in such a situation we would shake them up by the boot-straps.
It is advisable to make istighfar so as to clear one’s mind of worldly ties. 100x Astaghfirullah daily. Give sadaqa to the intention of lifting difficulties. Invoke blessings on the Prophet. These devotions will facilitate the above mental dispositions insha Allah.
We should also examine our daily routines for acts or habits that are unadvisable to someone who is trying to change. We should put those away and try and stay away from the people, places, and/or times associated with them, for example: smoking; staying up late at night; spending hours on the phone chatting; working endless hours; anything vacuous done to mindless excess.
In fact, one should seek excellent spiritual company at all times but at least once every week or month, to remember Allah together with others whom one meets for no other purpose. Such gatherings are an essential part of recharging one’s spiritual batteries. The loner is an easy prey but the wolf keeps away from the group.
It is advisable to remember also that one is never the only person thus apparently afflicted. Tedium is a common and perhaps universal and necessary test. The Sufis use the terms “straitening and expansion” (al-qabd wal-bast) to refer to different states in one’s spiritual wayfaring to the Lord of all lords. Highs and lows are part of life for everyone so keep travelling. The Prophet would say, upon him peace: “O Allah, I seek refuge in you from helplessness and laziness.” “Whoever dies on the way is written among those who have arrived,” said Shaykh Muhyi al-Din Ibn `Arabi. The important thing is to keep moving, not to give up.
We should think also of the wisdom of difficulty and distress. They bring us nearer to our Lord by reminding us of our weakness. This is the illustration of the saying that “whoever knows himself” to be truly weak “knows his Lord” to be truly exalted and all-giving. Such are good times to turn to him and repent, even if this reaches seventy times a day. “Allah does not grow bored of giving, rather you grow bored of asking.”
It is advisable to not approach the Salat as a burden but as a new chance for gain, improvement, victory over the mediocre alternatives of the self – depression, distraction, despair. It is a connection to the everlasting world, the communication with the Creator, companionship with the angels and the best of human beings such as Prophets. This is true of Qada’ (makeup prayers) also, as every prayer is a fresh start. A contrite heart in Qada’ may be better than a proud heart in Ada’.
The Salat is not a chore but the soul’s nourishment and the weapon of the spirit. Do not deprive your heart and soul of its daily lights. Conversely, do not allow the enemies to roam at leisure by letting rust the practices that keep their harm in check. Imam al-Ghazzali said:
“The forms of the Salat which entail one bowing, two prostrations, specific numbers [of supplications], and specific Qur’anic utterances that are recited, at various lengths and times upon sunrise, noon, and sunset, have a specific effect in stilling the dragon (al-tinnin) that nestles in the human breast and breeds many-headed snakes [like a hydra] – equal to the number of one’s [bad] traits – biting and snapping at him in the grave. … Its harm extends to the soul, as indicated by the Prophet’s saying – upon him blessings and peace: ‘A dragon with ninety-nine heads is empowered over the disbeliever in the latter’s grave, doing such and-such etc.’ There are many such dragons in the human make-up, and nothing subdues them except Divinely-prescribed obligations.”
It is advisable to make the Salat brief so as to concentrate better and not think of anything else. A sahih narration from `Ammar ibn Yasir and Abu al-Yasar Ka`b ibn `Amr by Abu Dawud, Imam Ahmad, al-Nasa’i in al- Sunan al-Kubra, and others, states that `Ammar ibn Yasir prayed two rak`as and made them brief [deliberately]. `Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Harith said to him: “Abu al-Yaqzan, I see that you made them brief?” He replied: “I overtook Satan’s whispering with these two rak`as. Verily, I heard the Messenger of Allah say – upon him peace: ‘Verily, a man prays and it may be that nothing of his salat is recorded to his credit except one tenth, or one-ninth, or one-eighth, or one-seventh,’ and so forth until he reached the last figure.” No wonder many of the pious make their Salat – as imams and otherwise – brief.
It is advisable to pray at the very beginning of the time so that the rest of the time be blessed with the baraka of having discharged one’s duty. Being in the clear as much as one can is part of gaining strength in the Divine good pleasure and a way to feel the blessing of time since time becomes a friend rather than a judge. It defuses the burden of guilt that becomes unbearable under a heavy debt and which it is not the Divine design for us to suffer.
This is some advice that comes to mind from your sinful brother.